Saudi Arabia has abolished flogging as a punishment, the Supreme Court announced, hailing the latest in a series of "human rights advances" made by the king and his powerful son.
Court-ordered floggings in Saudi Arabia — sometimesextending to hundreds of lashes — have long drawn condemnation from humanrights groups.
But they say the headline legal reforms overseen by CrownPrince Mohammed bin Salman have brought no let-up in the conservative Islamickingdom's crushing of dissent, including through the use of the death penalty.
The Saudi Supreme Court said the latest reform was intendedto "bring the kingdom into line with international human rights normsagainst corporal punishment".
Previously the courts could order the flogging of convictsfound guilty of offences ranging from extramarital sex and breach of the peaceto murder.
In future, judges will have to choose between fines and/orjail sentences, or non-custodial alternatives like community service, the courtsaid in a statement seen by AFP on Saturday.
The most high-profile instance of flogging in recent yearswas the case of Saudi blogger Raif Badawi who was sentenced to 10 years inprison and 1,000 lashes in 2014 for "insulting" Islam.
He was awarded the European parliament's Sakharov humanrights prize the following year.
The abolition of corporal punishment in Saudi Arabia comesjust days after the kingdom's human rights record was again in the spotlightfollowing news of the death from a stroke in custody of leading activistAbullah al-Hamid, 69.
Hamid was a founding member of the Saudi Civil and PoliticalRights Association (ACPRA) and was sentenced to 11 years in jail in March 2013,campaigners said.
He was convicted on multiple charges, including"breaking allegiance" to the Saudi ruler, "incitingdisorder" and seeking to disrupt state security, Amnesty Internationalsaid.
Criticism of Saudi Arabia's human rights record has grownsince King Salman named his son Prince Mohammed crown prince and heir to thethrone in June 2017.TheOctober 2018 murder of vocal critic Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulatein Istanbul and the increased repression of dissidents at home haveovershadowed the prince's pledge to modernise the economy and society.